You can't always default to 100% recycled content for your packaging. Doesn't matter how dedicated you are to sustainability; sometimes, it isn’t right for the job at hand. The good news is you can limit your environmental impact in other ways without compromising the quality or functionality of your cartons, folded labels, or packaging. And we're going to tell you how.

Why might recycled paper be a no-no?

Before we can delve into environmental-damage mitigation tactics, it’s important to cover the ins and outs of why you might not be able to choose your favourite recycled or sustainable stock for every project. To understand it, we need to go down to a (nearly) microscopic level.

Paper and card stocks can be recycled up to six times throughout their lifecycle. The caveat is that each time you recycle the paper, you shorten its fibre lengths. As a result, your recycled labels get weaker and weaker until you eventually can’t get a crisp fold without the paper cracking and falling apart.

When your project calls for folded products, cartons, or packaging with a more robust structure, you might be better off choosing papers with virgin content rather than going for 100% recycled. In those instances, you can still save your environmentally friendly, ethical credentials by shifting your focus to other areas. The first stage is to unpack exactly what ‘sustainability’ means to you.

Define what sustainability means for you

Over the last fifty years, we've worked with hundreds of global brands across almost every sector imaginable. We've encountered an array of brand values, promises, and targets during that time. No two brands are ever the same (isn't that the point of branding?).

On that logic, it's helpful to look back through your environmental targets and the brand values you hold around ethics and sustainability. For example, are you happy to use card with FSC-certified virgin content if it means eliminating plastics? Are you happy to go virgin if it reduces carbon emissions from haulage and shipping?

You may come up against this issue with every project you do, which is why it pays to spend time fleshing out your negotiables and non-negotiables. By working with an experienced label partner like us, you can begin to find workable solutions.

Ways to limit your environmental impact

Use FSC-certified virgin card to eliminate plastics

Here’s an example of a lesser evil rising up to defeat the ultimate baddie. Sure, virgin card isn’t as saintly as its name, but it’s miles better than single-use plastics. Card stocks containing FSC-certified virgin content are sometimes strong enough to replace plastic packaging.

For example, we recently helped Sainsbury’s replace all their plastic swimwear packaging with card alternatives. As a result, they avoided the plastics tax (thereby offsetting the cost of the new hangers) and reduced seven pieces of packaging across tops and bottoms to just two. And all thanks to FSC-certified virgin card!

[Read our Sainsbury’s story here]


Choose certified paper for more sustainable labels

You may not be able to use paper with 100% recycled content in your spec, but you can opt for an FSC-certified paper supplied by a certified provider (like us!). FSC-certified virgin card and paper stocks use sustainably sourced wood pulp — crucial for healthy, resilient forests. You also get a transparent, certified supply chain and a super robust structure for your packaging.

You can also work with chlorine-free papers, certified ECF (elemental chlorine free) or TCF (totally chlorine free). When elemental chlorine gas is used to whiten paper, it creates harmful by-products, which can get into natural waterways and food chains via the papermill’s wastewater. So, you can help the environment by simply giving this a miss!

Work with a supplier who’s got certified credentials

You’re only as conscientious as the suppliers you work with. You can improve worldwide working conditions, environmental practices, and corporate responsibility by choosing a labeling partner with certified credentials.

For example, our global production sites are SEDEX members and also hold SMETA audits. This means our facilities are audited annually to ensure they’re safe, fair, and ethical for workers worldwide. In addition, we have a ForestNation partnership in the Netherlands to help reduce our carbon footprint; we measure our impact using The Higg Index, and more.

You may not be using recycled paper this time, but by working with an ethical partner, you’re still helping the planet while toeing the line for industry best practices.

[See our sustainability credentials]

Source locally

In some cases, virgin paper can actually have a lower environmental impact than recycled options. For example, you can improve project sustainability by choosing an FSC-certified virgin paper stock produced locally to your manufacturer. It’ll allow you to avoid carbon emissions caused by shipping to source and may even help the local economy.

Would you like a hand finding alternative ways to make sustainable garment labels and packaging using FSC virgin paper? Contact the team and our experienced team will draw on decades of knowledge and global resources to help you find a planet-friendly solution.